OF ACCUSED THROUGH COUNSEL FOR CREATION OF A SPECIAL DIVISION TO TRY
PLUNDER CASE (SB CRIM. CASE NO. 26558 AND RELATED CASES)
its Oversight Committee received on 11 January 2002 Resolution No.
of the Sandiganbayan (En Banc) captioned Re: Request for the
Creation of a Special Division to Try the Plunder Case (SB Crim.
No. 26558 and related cases affecting the accused). The Resolution was
promulgated on 8 and 11 January 2002 in response to the Request for
Re-Raffle of the defense counsel and the Opposition to Request
Re-Raffle of the Special Prosecution Panel.
Resolution No. 01-2002
recommends that "the cases against former President Joseph Ejercito
Estrada and those accused with him be referred to a special division
by constitutional authority of the Supreme Court composed of three
with two alternates in case of temporary absence of any of the three to
be chosen from among the present composition of this Court who will be
able to participate therein until the termination of said cases."
In its Request
for Re-Raffle, the Defense alleges that it is made "for (a)
administration of justice" in view of the "shifting and
nature of (the) composition (of the Third Division)" to which the "Plunder
Case" was originally assigned, citing as bases therefor the
retirement of Associate Justice Ricardo M. Ilarde on 27 November 2001,
and the indefinite leave of absence of Associate Justice Anacleto D.
Jr., pursuant to our Resolution of 11 December 2001, thereby leaving a
void in the composition of the regular Third Division. Only Associate
Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro remains as permanent member thereof.
Justices Narciso S. Nario, Sr., and Nicodemo T. Ferrer who were earlier
designated to sit in the Third Division as special members or so-called
"warm bodies" are by the nature of their designations
On 9 January 2002
the Special Prosecution Panel filed an Opposition to Request for
arguing that there was no assurance that the other divisions would have
a complete set of members since "[c]hanges in membership in any one
of the divisions will surely occur every now and then occasioned by
resignation, optional or mandatory retirement, promotion or other
causes x x x"
This Court is informed
that on the basis of the letter-request for re-raffle and the
thereto, the Acting Presiding Justice of Sandiganbayan immediately
the parties through counsel to a conference on the same date to give
comment and/or suggestion on how to resolve the issue at hand.cralaw:red
On 10 January 2002
the Special Prosecution Panel filed its comment/suggestion maintaining
that the Third Division should continue hearing the Plunder Case,
and to achieve constancy in the membership of that division it
the creation of Special Third Division to be composed of the remaining
permanent member of the Third Division, Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De
Castro, and two (2) other justices who have heretofore at one time or
taken part in hearing the Plunder Case, who are not retirable
the next three (3) years, and who are not appointees of the principal
The Defense Panel
on the other hand, in its letter of 11 January 2002, argues that the
of an Ad Hoc Special Division
"may create serious equal
concerns and set a dangerous precedent that may come back to haunt us."
The Defense also manifests its "deep reservations" against
participation of Justice Leonardo-De Castro "Being an object of an
petition to recuse as well as an administrative complaint." Consequently,
it recommended the transfer of the "Estrada Cases" to the Fifth
Division composed of Acting Presiding Justice Minita V. Chico-Nazario
Associate Justices Ma. Cristina G. Cortez-Estrada and Francisco H.
Jr., "a tribunal with a predictable, stable, regular, permanent
As a result of the
7 January 2002 meeting of the Oversight Committee with Acting Presiding
Justice and the Chairmen of the various divisions of the Sandiganbayan,
it was learned that Justices Nicodemo T. Ferrer, Catalino R.
Jr., Anacleto D. Badoy, Jr., Narciso S. Nario, Sr. and Rodolfo G.
are retiring on 3 August 2002, 20 September 2002, 19 October 2002, 29
2002 and 14 December 2003, respectively. Associate Justices Godofredo
Legaspi, Gregory S. Ong and Raoul V. Victorino had expressed their
not to be assigned to the Special Division to be created in view of
close relationship and association with the accused and their families,
while Associate Justice Ma. Cristina G. Cortez-Estrada is an appointee
of the principal accused. Associate Justices Francisco H. Villaruz Jr.
is a very recent appointee, while Presiding Justice Francis E.
is devoting himself exclusively to decision writing under authority of
A. M. No. 00-8-05-SC.cralaw:red
Thus, we are left
with hardly any choice but to designate Acting Presiding Justice Minita
v. Chico-Nazario as Chairman, and Associate Justices Edilberto G.
and Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro as Members of the Special Division
try and decide the Plunder Case (SB Crim. Case No. 26558 and
As regards Associate
Justice Leonardo-De Castro, we do not find the objection of the Defense
Panel sufficient to disqualify her from the case.cralaw:red
Under Sec. 5, par.
, Art. VIII, of the 1987
Constitution, the Supreme Court has the power to promulgate rules
the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights and procedure
all courts, including the Sandiganbayan. Accordingly, given the nature
of the Plunder Case and cases related thereto, the prominence
the principal accused and the importance of the immediate resolution of
the cases to the Filipino people and the Philippine Government, this
in the interest of justice and the speedy disposition of cases, with
regard to the procedural and substantive rights of the accused, deems
best to create a Special Division of the Sandiganbayan to be composed
members mentioned in the immediately preceding paragraph. This Special
Division shall hear, try and decide with dispatch the Plunder Case
and all related cases filed or which may hereafter be filed against
President Joseph Ejercito Estrada and those accused with him, until
are resolved, decided and terminated.cralaw:red
The designation of
temporary alternate members may be properly addressed later. Meanwhile,
until otherwise revoked, the Acting Presiding Justice is authorized to
designate from time to time, an alternate member to be drawn from the
members of the Sandiganbayan as the exigencies of the service may
WHEREFORE, upon recommendation
of the Oversight Committee of this Court, with due consideration of the
facts and all attendant circumstances, and in the interest of a speedy
administration of justice, this Court RESOLVES to CREATE, as it hereby
creates, under its constitutional authority, a Special Division of the
Sandiganbayan to be composed of Acting Presiding Justice Minita V.
as Chairman, and Associate Justices Edilberto G. Sandoval and Teresita
J. Leonardo-De Castro as Members, to hear, try and decide with dispatch
the Plunder Case and all related cases filed or may hereafter
filed against former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada and those
with him, until such cases are resolved, decided or otherwise finally
in the Sandiganbayan.cralaw:red
The Special Division
may promulgate its own rules not otherwise inconsistent with or
to the Rules of Court or the Rules of the Sandiganbayan to govern the
in these cases taking into consideration the constitutional rights of
the parties concerned.cralaw:red
The regular members
of the Special Division shall hereafter be excluded from the regular
of cases in the Sandiganbayan except those related cases herein before
mentioned, until such time as this Court or the Sandiganbayan may see
to include them as existing conditions may warrant.cralaw:red
Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Panganiban, Quisumbing, Pardo,
Ynares-Santiago, De Leon, Jr., and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., concur.